In hindsight, it was inevitable.
We are a divided nation. Half of us dream of a world that’s more inclusive, where society is constantly evolving to be ever more welcoming of people of all backgrounds, faiths, and philosophies; the other half, apprehensive of the changes caused by such an evolution, seek refuge in an idealized world of the past. And so we dream of some event where one side or the other will emerge victorious once and for all, even though we are so deadlocked that no such victory can ever take place, and the contests we create for such a victory to occur wind up resulting in confusing, inconclusive fiascos.
Obviously I’m talking about the Oscars here.
I have to admit, given that I’m a struggling artist of limited means and free time, I haven’t seen most of this year’s nominated films. But frankly, that doesn’t matter – we naturally project upon movies our politics, our ideals, our sense of how the world should be, and come Oscar time these become our vicarious champions every bit as much our local sports teams. I’ve been watching with fascination these past few weeks as narratives were constructed around the films by people with strong beliefs about how our aesthetics should mix with our politics. And they really didn’t care for La La Land (in which the world’s prettiest white people bring back 1950s-style musical choreography in order to save jazz, or something), and rallied around Moonlight (a low-budget labor of love which takes the black LGBT experience and makes it a universal statement). And through a month’s worth of think pieces and status updates, it’s been amazing to see just how elaborate the narrative around these films and this contest has become. It’s as if the fate of the nation was at stake; as if the election of the current president, and all that represents, would either be triumphantly negated or tragically confirmed based upon who won a trophy.
So naturally, the Oscar victory came in such a bizarre fashion that neither of these narratives could come to pass. La La Land won – but no it really didn’t! And the insane circumstances by which we learned Moonlight actually won prevented that movie from having any traditional moment of Oscar triumph. And once again, a nationally watched election, while it had a definitive winner, ended on note of grotesque inconclusiveness, as we tried to figure out just what the heck happened.
As I note above, this shouldn’t be surprising – we’re too fractious a people for any one competition’s outcome to decide anything, and should expect a long succession of contests instead as we try and figure out just who we are, what we believe in, and what movies we should watch.
(Incidentally, if you’re curious just how those future contests might unfold, I recommend paying closer attention to the truly significant part of any televised event – last night’s commercials. It’s one thing for celebrities to espouse liberal and multicultural values, but when major corporations take out expensive ad time at the Oscars to do the same thing, you know that something significant is occurring. The road to victory may be rocky and full of set-backs, but that victory is likely already won.)